The Hamitic Hypothesis was a 19th century anthropological theory that claimed that humans originated in Asia and then migrated to other regions of the world. The theory was used to explain the discovery of so-called “white races” in Africa in the late 1800s. The Hamitic Hypothesis was not simply a curiosity of anthropological science. It was an idea that changed lives: from those European colonists who relied upon it to justify their presence in Africa, to the scientists who used it to explain away the accomplishments of African civilizations as a result of “white” influence. Ultimately, the Hamitic Hypothesis anchored a global theory of human origins and migration that, when combined with the Aryan race theory, shaped anthropology, colonial policy, and even the attitudes of Africans themselves for a hundred years.
Michael Robinson is a historian of science and exploration at the University of Hartford. He is the author of “The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture.” His new book The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory that Changed a Continent” comes out with Oxford University Press in December.
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